A reading with
Colossians 3: 1-11
1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
2 Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
3 For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
4 When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
5 Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
6 For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
7 In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
8 But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
9 Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
10 And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
11 Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all". -
We have gathered from the ground already covered in the two preceding chapters that Christ, as Head of the body to which we belong, has every resource for every member to enable us to function for Him in this world. As Gentiles, in whom Christ has been formed, we are able to live pleasurably to God in this world now. Then we saw in Col. 2 many things which we need to avoid, things which are of no help to us in the service of God. Now we come to the positive side of that to which we have been called, and again read of other things we need to avoid. The chapter opens presenting the objective sphere where Christ is in glory and our association with Him there as raised, then goes on to show that having put off the old man and put on the new man, the features of Christ come to light in every one of us.
I suppose the meaning of this "if" is "seeing this is so", seek the things which are above.
We see here the counterpart of our having died with Christ; now we are said to be raised with Him. I suppose one is consequent upon the other.
We have already noted from Col. 2 that we are said to be both raised and quickened. Not only have we a place in that sphere with Christ as raised, we also have the power to live there-we have been quickened. It is a new sphere of life entirely in association with Christ in glory. It is well to note that we are said to be quickened together with Christ. Not only has God caused us to live, we live in relation to Christ not in a detached way at all.
Can we define these "things which are above"?
What characterizes these things is that they are with Christ at the right of God. We are to seek them and have our minds on them. This involves real exercise of heart as following the rich ministry of the previous chapters. These things should become attractive to us, for we do not seek things which are not attractive to us. In Psalm 27 e read, "One thing have I desired of the LORD, that will I seek after". It is not sufficient to have desires after these things; we must seek seems that if we were seeking the things above the Spirit would be more free to reveal them to us, for all those things, though spoken of as the depths of God, stand in relation to a Man Who is at the right hand of God.
A completely new order of things has come into existence now as available for the saints of God, and Christ is the centre of them in glory. These things could not come out while He was living in this world; but after His death, resurrection and ascension the whole scope of these spiritual blessings is opened out for us, and that is what we are exhorted to seek after.
There were many things which the Lord said to His disciples which they were not to speak about till He was risen from the dead. They had to wait till the Spirit had come and the right presentation of what He had given would be known to them. Now our life is hid with Christ in God and these things are not publicly known. They can be known only in a realm where we are in association with Himself, and to those in mind at the beginning of the chapter, "if ye then be risen with Christ".
What is the force of this expression "at the right hand of God"?
In the epistle to the Hebrews it is said four times of the Lord that He is sitting at "the right hand". In Heb. 1 He "has sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high". In Heb. 8 it is "on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens". In Heb. 10 it is "on the right hand of God", and in Heb. 12 "at the right hand of the throne of God". When His Personal glory is in view in Heb. 1 and Heb. 10 it is the right hand of God, while as Priest and Overcomer He is at the right hand of the throne. It amplifies what has been said that the Man in the glory of God is God in His Person.
"To which of the angels said He at any time, Sit on My right hand?" ( Heb. 1: 13). We were speaking of the worship of angels yesterday, but that verse would preclude any such thought. When our Lord was before the council He said, "Hereafter shall ye see the Son of Man siting on the right hand of power" (Matt. 26: 64). That meant He was the Son of God. It is the place of power but also a striking testimony to the glory of His Person.
I understand His being at the right hand of God is to show that as co- equal with God He will carry out everything for the pleasure of God, and this place is unique to Christ in Manhood. We are said to be seated with Christ in heavenly places, but it never says we shall be at the right hand of God.
Would these things which are above be the spiritual blessings which are ours in Christ?
I do not doubt that. In Ephesians we are said to have been blessed with them in heavenly places in Christ; here in the beginning of the chapter we are told to seek them as we are still on the earth, but associated with Christ in resurrection in the power of a new life.
Why does the New Translation give it as "the Christ"?
Some have averred that "the christ" is always a title, but you will find an important note on this very matter in 2 Cor. 1 (New Trans.). J.N.D. shows it is not always a title nor always a name. We have understood the anointed vessel in 1 Cor. 12: 12 to be the body, and the footnote helps in relation to this point.
"Sitting" indicates something completed as we know so well from Hebrews, and He sits there to bring into being everything for the pleasure of God.
The contrast to things above is obviously things on the earth. There is a difference between worldly things and earthly things, and it may be we are more in danger of earthly things than worldly things.
It was that which brought tears to the eyes of the apostle as he tells us in Philippians of those "who mind earthly things", and he does not say of them that they were enemies of Christ but enemies of the cross of Christ.
Three times in the gospel of John we have recorded that the Lord spoke of being lifted up, but only in John 12 are those significant words added, "will draw all men unto Me". It is lifted up "from the earth"; He has left the earth and we are to leave the earth in our affections as attracted to Him. First we seek these things, then we set our minds upon them; we go after them as minded to allow them to have an effect upon us.
Would it not test us when we meet one another as to whether we speak of earthly things or heavenly things?
We have a helpful illustration of this in the two going to Emmaus. The topic of their conversat on was Himself. When He asked them of the things of which they were speaking they said, "Concerning Jesus". Though disappointed, the topic of their conversation was Jesus. Then He enlarges on that by giving them something more-the knowledge that Christ was risen.
The sphere of life in Colossians 3 has been mentioned. We have been quickened in our souls as seen in Colossians 2, but here it says "your life is hid with Christ in God". I think it is importance to get hold of this objective side of life, for the life we are given in our souls is lived in the sphere where Christ is.
Say something about the phrase, "ye are dead", and what is involved in "your life is hid with Christ in God".
We have this life while we are on earth but it is not given us for the earth. So far as our spiritual history is concerned we are dead to things here, and we live that new life in the scene where Christ is, a life said to be "hid with Christ in God".
Perhaps our brother has in mind the absolute character of this statement. In other Scriptures we are said to be dead to certain things, but here it is categorically stated "ye have died" (N.T.).
That subject is raised in Colossians 2. In relation to our baptism we profess to have died. No doubt in the thought of God that is true, but we professed it in baptism. It is a definite statement that we have to accept. God Himself has brought it about through the death of Christ. If it is asserted that we are risen then we must have died. It may be asked, Died to what? Died to everything which could not be associated with Christ in glory.
This seems to be the most absolute statement on this matter in the New Testament. In Romans 6 we are exhorted to reckon ourselves dead; Paul said he bore continually in his body the dying of Jesus; but here we are said to be dead as an absolute statement.
From whom is this life hidden?
From the men of this world. It is not hidden from us, for it says " your life". We are just guarding the fact that it is our spiritual life as the fruit of what God has effected. "If ye then be risen with Christ", that is, in the operation of God associating us with Christ.
It has been said as to our bodies, we are still in Egypt; as to our experience we are in the wilderness; but through faith we are in the land.
What life was the apostle Paul referring to when he said, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God" (Gal. 2: 20)?
I think it was this life coming out in practice. He was no longer living to himself, but living to and for Christ in that new impulse of life he had received from the Son of God. No doubt in Galatians it stands in contrast to trying to live by the law; he lived by the faith of the Son of God indicating, no doubt, Christianity in its power.
There is only one life spiritually, whatever name is given to it. Sometimes it is called eternal life, but there is only one kind of spiritual life in our souls.
We have a definition of this life here; "Christ, who is our life".
Would not Joash when hid in the temple be a picture of this? Faithful hearts in Israel knew of him there and bowed to him there in view of the day when he would come forth and take his rightful place on the throne. As Joash was ultimately manifested, so will Christ be. One could hardly imagine that any fellowship between the supporters of Athaliah and those of Joash would be possible. So it is today.
Life is characterized by relationships, affections and enjoyments. If then our life is hid with Christ in God, all our relationships, affections and enjoyments are there.
In the gospel it is recorded that "he that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life" (John 3: 36). Is this a different aspect of that life?
There is only one source of life and one power of life in our souls, whatever the different characteristics of that life may be. Here it is lived in the new realm of things which has come into existence through the resurrection of Christ. Eternal life is lived in communion with the Father and the Son. The same life, but looked at in two distinctive ways. No doubt development goes on in that life, but it was there in germ from the outset of our new history with God.
Would this be what the apostle speaks of as laying hold on eternal life?
Yes! for the correct rendering of that phrase is, "Lay holy of what is really life" (1 Tim. 6: 19, N.T.). Life n this world is not really life. This is, for it is lived in the things which will not end in death.
When it speaks of "your life", that which we have in possession, it is a hidden matter. When it is defined as "Christ who is our life" it has manifestation in view. The day is coming when it will be manifested in the world to come that the life we have been living now is that very life which will be in evidence then.
If we accept the word "Your life is hid with Christ", we shall not wish for prominence in this world, its honours will not appeal to us.
We do not want to hurt anyone, but all those things will be eschewed if we are really true to the fact that our life is hidden with Christ. We may as well be practical about it, we are either living for heaven, or living for earth; it must be one or the other. We must settle it in our minds that we cannot live for both worlds. I may try to persuade you that I can, but the fact is I cannot. I cannot spend my time sitting on councils and such like and then come to the meetings and begin to open up the truth of the mystery. I shall not have the time or inclination to appreciate such truth.
Are these definite statements true of every Christian?
Yes, indeed! They are stated to encourage our hearts so that we may seek to enjoy these things which are above. If I could move naturally into this I should not need the exhortation to seek it. Then comes the other side, "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth". Life there and my old life here cannot go on together.
As true of me that I have died to things here, I now seek to mortify my members in relation to my former life here. God has given me the right to live in that new sphere and in appreciation I seek to die to life in this sphere, for I can live that old life if I want to. Let us truly face this matter. We shall never be free from these potential dangers as long as we are here, hence we need this warning. What then are we to do? God has said we are dead, but here we are as men and women in this scene, and there are certain habits which are catalogued for us from which we can never say we are free. The point is that when these things present themselves to us we are to mortify them at their very conception.
We spoke at the beginning of the objective sphere of that life; now the subjective answer is coming out in these verses.
Does Gilgal come in here?
It does. Circumcision removes the reproach of Egypt. I remember a brother once explaining that very simply. He said that when asking about a certain brother sitting in the meeting, he was told, "Had you known that man before he was converted you would not now recognise him". He was a drunkard etc.. Now, sitting so happily in the meeting, all those former marks had gone. The reproach of Egypt had been rolled away from him, for he was practically circumcised from his old life. Do the people who live with us in the same town see that we too are not marked by the things which mark the men of this world? Such things ought to have gone in mortification. "In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them". Not now! That verse is in the past tense.
Will you explain the statement, "Covetousness which is idolatry"? It is so often condemned in the Scriptures.
So far as I understand it, covetousness means allowing the desire of something God has not given us the first place in our hearts. Thus it takes the place in our affections which belongs only to God and becomes an idol. Whatever displaces God in our affections is an idol. We may desire certain things in this life which we think would be for our good, but to covet them leads to the surrender of everything in order to get them, and they then become idols.
That is a good description of idolatry-something which displaces God in our affections-and that is what covetousness leads to.
What would be the difference between mortifying and putting off as in v. 8?
Mortifying refers to the members of our body, while putting off is in relation to what we are as characterized by the old man; as we read, " seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds". I may end those things which are externally evil without putting off those things which are still latent in me-the old man. I cannot mortify them but I can put them off.
This mortifying is really a violent thing-putting to death. How does it work out in us?
Suppose I have a pressing temptation in regard to something which a peals to me and I naturally would give myself to that because it does appeal to me, it would mean violence to myself to refuse it. I think Peter has that in mind when he says; "Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind; for he that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sin" (1 Peter 4: 1). We do not always know what others are suffering by deliberately avoiding certain things.
"Make thee sharp knives" was the word of God to Israel in Gilgal. Not one of us knows what the secret of another is. The evidence that we have faced this exercise with God is seen when the features of the new man come to light.
Would this truth of putting off the old man and putting on the new be illustrated in Elijah and Elisha?
Yes, indeed! the sons of the prophets said of Elisha, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha" (2 Kings 2: 15). He had rent his own garments and adopted the garment of Elijah. He had no further use for the old robe.
Then it says, "Lie not one to another". We tells lies about things we have done and are too ashamed to own up to. If we are doing the things we ought to do we shall never be tempted to tell a lie. Let us note the place the tongue has in this list. James, as we well know, tells us how much evil it can cause. It is rather humbling to have to admit that all these things are in me and if I am not watchful they will soon manifest themselves.
How can we mortify them?
Seek the things which are above. That is how we have power to do so. If our minds are ever set on those things we instinctively say, "That is not going to be of any help", and we mortify it. If we have not the attraction of this better sphere governing us, we shall not have even the desire to up them off, much less the power.
If we have our hearts filled with the things which are above we shall not fear any of these things coming out.
All these negative things are summed up in the "old man". This term is used to give a complete representation of every evil feature fallen man is capable of. If we could gather together every evil thing in their totality we should see a personification of that man we should cry, Away with such a fellow, it is not fit that he should live.
That is just what God did when He crucified him with Christ. Now we are said to have put him off. In Colossians 1, where we are said to have believed the truth of the gospel, we put off the old man by faith. In Colossians 2, where we are said to have put off the body of the flesh, we put off the old man by profession. Now, in these verses by putting off his deeds we put off the old man by practice. We did not know of course when we believed the gospel that we were putting off the old man, but we did by faith-by profession when we were baptized; and by practice when we put on the deeds of the new man.
Well now, having disposed of the old man, what about the new man?
It is Christ formed in our souls by the Spirit of God. It does not say new men as though it was the company. It is that work by the Spirit in every one of our souls.
The new man is neither you nor me personally, but what the Spirit has formed of Christ in each one of us. I do not find the saints in this district doing anything different from the saints in other districts, for we all take character from Christ. The new man is not Christ personally, for He is the Second Man, but is Christ characteristically formed by the Spirit in our souls. We may make excuses for failing to maintain this by suggesting a different environment, but it matters not where we are or what we are, Christ ought to be seen in each one of us.
Could we have a word on "renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him"?
I apprehend the Creator of the new man is God, for God ever brings in new creation. I think it is God coming to light in testimony in each one of us.
Does the renewing into full knowledge give me the capability of looking at things in the way God looks at them?
The word for "renewing" is "anakainow", something entirely new. We have an entirely new motive, an entirely new power in our thinking, for we think for God now and not for ourselves. It is in the present tense.
In regard to thinking as God thinks, we have a very strong word used in 1 Cor. 2: 16, "But we have the mind of Christ". It has been pointed out that the word for "mind" there means "the same thinking capacity". The marvel is we have the thinking capacity "of Christ" and can understand divine things with the same kind of mind as Christ. We have this by having the Spirit Who searches the depths of God. May we use that mind in our thinking and so be found always considering for God. Christ will then come to light in each one of us and the features of God will be seen in display in testimony.